There are three choices you can make when designing balustrades and balconies: ‘well-made’, ‘band aid’ or ‘be afraid’.
Welcome to the world of good and bad balustrades. The good ones? They’re the balustrades that will stay looking as designed, working as intended. They’ll meet safety standards now and into the future. They’ll work to enhance the overall look of the building, fitting in to the structure aesthetic with subtle support or bold enhancement.
The bad ones are hiding in plain sight, these leaky-home features an unsafe and unseemly hangover from poor design and lower standards. Balustrades have moved over time and cracked tiles and, in doing so, opened up space for water to penetrate.
It is not just homes that are at risk either. Many apartment owners are now finding a cheap material decision years ago has resulted in costly repair or replacement work here and now.
Remediating the mistakes from the past is obviously part and parcel of the leaky home era. However some new designs and process are creating just as big a headache for developers and construction companies. Here are the three types of balustrades New Zealand building owners are currently faced with.
1) Well made. It starts with the scope. Ideally, balustrades will be part of the initial design process, when thought is first given to how each will be connected to the building structure and how the fixings will be waterproofed if necessary. Only then will the scope address how the balustrade will look.
These balustrades will be constructed in strong but lightweight material, so minimal loading and stresses are applied to the structure. A correctly made and maintained balustrade will perform and look great for generations to come.
2) Band aid. Building owners have had to carefully reassess their balustrades and balconies in recent years, particularly if the cladding has been constructed with lightweight material built to imitate concrete or masonry. Any handrails that penetrate either the balustrade or building façade also have to be checked.
When issues arise it’s often a case of water penetrating the façade and entering the structure to cause big damage. What may look like a professional installation can quickly become a headache when mould starts appearing on the walls.
3) Be afraid. Even today bad design and fixing can lead to moving balustrades that in turn can cause water to leak inside cladding and rot structural timber. Weight issues too can cause balconies to fail safety standards before the project is even completed, with some builds going weeks and sometimes months over schedule due to hasty re-designs and new fabrication.
Such issues generally arise when a balustrade is seen as the ‘last step’ in the design process, or manufactured to meet an aesthetic result that is impractical and, at worst, unsafe.